Hawai‘i gun control bill moves forward

LIHU‘E — A bill aimed at restricting who can obtain firearm permits and where they can carry them passed its second reading in the state House of Representatives, moving it one step closer to becoming law.

Following the landmark June 2022 U.S. Supreme Court case New York State Rifle &Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen — which overturned a New York law requiring that applicants seeking a license to publicly carry a firearm demonstrate a specific need — several states with similar laws, including Hawai‘i, have seen significant increases in carry permit requests and issuances.

For instance, Hawai‘i police chiefs had only issued six such permits in the 21 years prior to Bruen, according to state data. Between January and February of 2023, Kaua‘i County alone issued 52 such licenses.

As one of the nation’s historically most restrictive states with regards to gun control, Hawai‘i’s Legislature appears poised to enact new regulations to meet this unprecedented rise in individuals publicly carrying firearms.

If passed into law, Senate Bill 1230 would make several significant changes in how firearm licenses can be issued and used in Hawai‘i.

For one, the bill would affirm authorities’ ability to disqualify individuals from owning, possessing or controlling firearms if the applicants are sdeemed to lack “the essential character or temperament necessary to be entrusted with a firearm.”

Qualifications for lacking such character would include presence of mental health issues, such as suicidal ideation or violent impulses, drug or alcohol abuse, and harboring “violent animus” toward one or more demographic of people.

SB 1230 would also prohibit individuals from carrying a firearm on another person’s private property without authorization, as well as in places deemed “sensitive locations.” These locations would include schools, colleges and universities, public parks and playgrounds, homeless shelters, bars and restaurants, government buildings, hospitals and public transportation vehicles and stations.

During the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs’ reading of the bill, the state Department of the Attorney General expressed strong support of the bill via testimony, arguing that changes in federal gun law should be met with state law changes.

“Gun violence represents an urgent public-health and public-safety issue,” the testimony read, “and (SB 1230) would play an important role in clarifying, revising and updating Hawai‘i’s firearm laws — addressing the serious hazards to public health, safety and welfare posed by firearms and gun violence while respecting individual rights.”

While most of the testimony has been positive, some individuals have argued the bill is too far-reaching. Jamie Detwiler, president of the Hawai‘i Federation of Republican Women, suggested in written testimony that the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing for restrictions in sensitive areas was meant to be far more restrictive, limited to places such as courthouses and jails.

“These specific places are secured so that virtually no one can bring a gun in because metal detectors are used, not signs on the door,” she wrote. “Currently, the term ‘sensitive area’ is being abused by some legislators nationwide to justify additional restrictions.”

SB 1230 will now head to a third reading in the House. If it passes once more, the bill will be returned to the Senate for consideration before heading to Gov. Josh Green’s desk.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, Kaua‘i released in September 2022 a revised concealed and open carry permit process — in which many of SB 1230’s proposed changes are already included.

Under the revised application process, applicants must submit to a firearm proficiency test and answer questions on criminal, mental health and substance abuse histories.

For those seeking open-carry permits, applicants are still asked to justify their need to open carry.

Ultimately, Kaua‘i Police Department Chief Todd Raybuck maintains discretion to deny permits, and ultimately has final say on whether applications are approved.

“We recognize the issuance of permits to carry firearms has generated both interest and anxiety across our community,” said Raybuck in September, after the new application process had been finalized.

“We remain committed to ensuring public safety and establishing open lines of communication for the safe and responsible carrying of firearms in public.”


Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or jhealy@thegardenisland.com.


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